I've been having so much trouble sleeping lately. I'm never sleepy, and when I do fall asleep I don't stay asleep long. Yes, I admit it. I've been a cranky witch.
Not only have I not been sleeping, I have weight problems. I've been going to the gym and eating right for two months and I have only lost three pounds. THREE pounds! I know a chronic lack of sleep affects weight, but, sheesh, a girl's gotta do something. I can't be fat and cranky!
A couple weeks ago, I started suspecting my melatonin levels must be out of whack and causing all my sleep problems. I've taken melatonin supplements before and they don't work well for me. I decided to look to ways to increase melatonin production naturally.
So what's it like to try to boost melatonin on my own? Read on to find out, but promise me you won't laugh at me too much, okay? 😉
So What's the Big Deal between Melatonin and Sleep?
Before I tell you how to increase melatonin production naturally I should probably go over why it's so critical when it comes to sleep.
Melatonin is a hormone that regulates sleep and your internal body clock. Darkness triggers the release of melatonin, which then starts the sleep process at night. Without it, you experience poor or no sleep and your circadian rhythm gets all out of whack.
You might be thinking, well, heck, why don't you just take a melatonin supplement? There's research that shows it isn't always ideal to take melatonin supplements for sleep, especially if you're wanting to increase melatonin production naturally. The more melatonin you take, the less your body thinks it needs to produce. You end up having to take higher and higher doses to get the same effect. I was on that roller coaster and didn't want to go that route again.
In a perfect world, melatonin production increases at night and decreases in the morning. I say perfect world because so much of the way we live our modern lives puts the brakes on melatonin production.
Things like stress, foods, light bulbs, and blue light from electronics like smartphones, computers, and TV's block the production of melatonin. So if I was going to increase melatonin production naturally I was going to have to de-stress, eat right and ditch electronics after sundown.
First Step to Increase Melatonin Production Naturally: Block the Blue Light
Yeah, well, whatever! I can handle being zen and eating right. But, sorry, I'm not going to sit in the dark and go without my cell phone for hours. Hours! I'm proud to say I got around this by blocking blue light without giving up a single electronic device.
Go ahead, laugh at me. My husband did. LOL
I knew there was no way I was going to go without my tech. And even though I have a blue light filter on my phone, I was still getting exposure from my laptop, computer, and the lighting in my house.
They were less than $10, and I think it's so worth looking like a bug if it means I can still check Facebook and blog.
It took me a bit to get used to wearing my blue light blocking because believe it or not it makes lights and colors brighter, I just can't see the color blue.
I start wearing them around sunset and don't take them off until I go to bed. The only problem I had was bathing.
It's kind of hard to wash your face with these suckers on. Taking them off in the light would have ruined me. Even brief exposure to blue light can squash melatonin production, so I lit a candle.
You're probably thinking, oh, a candlelit soak in the tub, how romantic and relaxing!
Um, well, no. It's kind of hard to do your beauty routine when you can't see jack. Relaxing, yes, productive, no.
Step #1 to Increase Melatonin Naturally
An easy way to block blue light is to wear blue light blocker glasses. It's easier than eliminating all contact with tech and a whole heck of a lot more fun than sitting in the dark. Well, for your family members anyway.
Plus, they're just so darn sexy!
Resetting the Body Clock: Good Morning Sunshine!
The next step I took to increase melatonin production naturally was to expose myself to bright light first thing in the morning. Doing this would cut off melatonin production and release the wake up hormones, cortisol and seratonin.
This was kind of hard for me though. I work at home, so it's not like I have a chance to catch some rays getting in the car and driving to a job. I'm not the athletic type either, so going out for a jog just wasn't going to happen.
So what I started doing was walking out in the yard first thing in the morning. I soak in the sun while I sit out on my porch or visit the dogs, my chickens, or check out my plants. It's kind of been a nice ritual.
Believe it or not light exposure in the morning is critical to melatonin production and the sleep/wake cycle. Light triggers the release of seratonin and cortisol, the wake up hormones. Seratonin and cortisol levels increase till they peak in the afternoon, and then get lower and lower the closer it gets to sunset when it's time to start releasing melatonin.
Step #2 to Increase Melatonin Naturally
Expose yourself to bright sunlight for at least a half an hour as soon as possible when you get up in the morning. Open window blinds and curtains and sit in front of it. Even better, take a walk or sit outside in the sunshine.
If you're not that much of an outdoor person or it's foul weather, a good way to get a boost of light first thing in the morning is by using a sunrise simulating alarm clock.
Eat Foods that are Natural Melatonin Sources
If you know me, you know I'm all about the food. And when I found out there were foods that naturally contained melatonin I was so on top of it. I even made up my own insomnia smoothie recipes. Yum!
Yes, I have been downing my share of smoothies, but I started adding in other natural melatonin foods, too. I LOVE broccoli, cucumber and tomatoes, so I've been having a lot of salads lately. I'm not too sure how much it's contributing to my melatonin production but if nothing else I'm eating healthy. 😛
But the one food that contains the highest amount of melatonin happens to be one I can't stand: cherries. Tart Montmorency cherries to be exact. I can handle them in small amounts camouflaged with a bunch of other stuff. But really the only thing cherry I'll consume is cherry Kool-Aid and lollipops, so I won't be eating them straight, no matter how much it may help me sleep.
I have seen tart cherry supplements, and I might try those since I'd be swallowing a pill instead of tasting cherries. I know that it's always better to eat stuff fresh, but eating tart cherries? No. Just, no.
Step #3 to Increase Melatonin Naturally
Increase your melatonin production naturally by eating foods that contain it. There's actually a lot of foods that are natural melatonin sources, so even if you're a picky eater like me you should find something you like. Here's a short list of melatonin rich foods:
- tart cherries
- grapes, broccoli, cucumber
- rolled oats
I haven't found anything that suggests how much of these foods to eat to help you sleep.. Personally, I just try to eat several servings of what I like from the list everyday.
Keepin' it Zen. And Stuff
Okay, I'm not the most zen person in the world, but I'm not a stressed out mess either. I think I have a pretty stress-free life, but sometimes I do have an avid imagination and can be a worrier. Not exactly a zen combination.
Remember when I told you that cortisol is a wake up hormone? Well, it is, and your body does release it in the morning, but the body also releases cortisol when you're under stress. The more stress you have, the higher the cortisol levels go.
After a period of time cortisol levels never go down. That means melatonin levels never have a chance to be released. (plus your butt gets bigger)
So on my road to zen I got a beginner yoga app and started doing 30 minutes everyday. They say meditation is good for stress, so I pray and still my mind before I go to bed every night.
Has it helped? Hard to say because I don't really feel like I'm that stressed. Just like eating melatonin rich foods, it can't really hurt and living a stress-free life is a pretty healthy habit to get into.
Step #4 to Increase Melatonin Naturally
Increase melatonin naturally by lowering cortisol levels. Chronic stress drives cortisol levels up, so you may have to make some lifestyle changes.
Reduce stress by using different relaxation techniques, like focused meditation, exercise, (yoga is a good choice), and spending more time outdoors.
So How'd it Go?
So I set out to increase melatonin production naturally. Did it work?
I can't say 100% because the only way to know for sure is to have a blood test. But I can tell you whether or not I had any improvement in sleep.
After about a week, I did notice I started getting sleepy and was ready to go to bed. This was odd for me because before I would go to bed at 11pm, but still be wide awake and lay there a while.
I've also noticed I don't sleep as light as I used to. Before I never would feel like I was ever in a deep sleep and I would wake up several times a night.
I think the reason why I saw some improvement is I cleaned up my sleep hygiene, with eliminating blue light being the most important factor. I'm starting to realize good sleep is just like losing weight. It's not about temporary fixes. The key to it is a total lifestyle change.
What about you? Have you tried to increase melatonin production naturally?